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The Dune Country

The Dune Country
Title: The Dune Country
Release Date: 2018-11-23
Type book: Text
Copyright Status: Public domain in the USA.
Date added: 27 March 2019
Count views: 98
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The Dune Country.




Copyright, 1916

Eaton & Gettinger



To C. C. R.


THE text and illustrations in this book are intended to depict a strangeand picturesque country, with some of its interesting wild life, and afew of the unique human characters that inhabit it.

The big ranges of sand dunes that skirt the southern and eastern shoresof Lake Michigan, and the strip of sparsely settled broken country backof them, contain a rich fund of material for the artist, poet, andnature lover, as well as for those who would seek out the oddities ofhuman kind in by-paths remote from much travelled highways.

In the following pages are some of the results of numerous sketchingtrips into this region, covering a series of years. Much material wasfound that was beyond the reach of the etching needle or the leadpencil, but many things seemed to come particularly within the provinceof those mediums, and they have both been freely used.

While many interesting volumes could be filled by pencil and pen, thisstory of the dunes and the “back country” has been condensed as much asseems consistent with the portrayal of their essential characteristics.{10}

We are lured into the wilds by a natural instinct. Contact with nature’sforms and moods is a necessary stimulant to our spiritual andintellectual life. The untrammelled mind may find inspiration and growthin congenial isolation, for in it there are no competitive orantagonistic influences to divert or destroy its fruitage.

Comparatively isolated human types are usually more interesting, for thereason that individual development and natural ruggedness have not beenrounded and polished by social attrition.

Social attrition would have ruined “old Sipes,” a part of whose story isin this book, and if it had ever been mentioned to him he probably wouldhave thought that it was something that lived up in the woods that hehad never seen.

Fictitious names have, for various reasons, been substituted for some ofthe characters in the following chapters. One of the old derelictsobjected strenuously to the use of his name. “I don’t want to be in nobook,” said he. “You can draw all the pitchers o’ me you want to, an’use ’em, but as fer names, there’s nothin’ doin’.”

“Old Sipes” suggested that if “Doc Looney’s pitcher was put in a book,some o’ them females might see it an’ locate ’im,” but as the “Doc” hasnow disappeared this danger is probably remote.

E. H. R.



I. The Dune Country15
II. The Gulls and Terns39
III. The Turtles47
IV. The Crows55
V.Old Sipes73
VI.Happy Cal97
VII.Catfish John115
VIII.Doc Looney149
IX. The Mysterious Prowler169
X.J. Ledyard Symington179
XI. The Back Country193
XII. Judge Cassius Blossom229
XIII. The Winding River255
XIV. The Red Arrow279





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WHILE there are immense stretches of sand dunes in other parts of theworld, it is of a particular dune country, to which many journeys havebeen made, and in which many days have been spent, that this story willbe told.

The dunes sweep for many miles along the Lake Michigan coasts. They arepost-glacial, and are undergoing slow continual changes, both in formand place,—the loose sand responding lightly to the action of varyingwinds.{16}

The “fixed dunes” retain general forms, more or less stable, owing tothe scraggly and irregular vegetation that has obtained a foothold uponthem, but the “wandering dunes” move constantly. The fine sand is waftedin shimmering veils across the smooth expanses, over the ridges to thelee slopes. It swirls in soft clouds from the wind-swept summits, and,in the course of time, whole forests are engulfed. After years ofentombment, the dead trunks and branches occasionally reappear in thepath of the destroyer, and bend back with gnarled arms in self-defence,seeming to challenge their flinty foe to further conflict.

The general movement is east and southeast, owing to the prevalence ofwest and northwest winds in this region, which gather force in comingover the waters of the lake. The finer grains, which are washed up onthe beach, are carried inland, the coarser particles remaining near theshore. The off-shore winds, being broken by the topography of thecountry, exercise a less but still noticeable influence. The loosemasses retreat perceptibly toward the beach when these winds prevail forany great length of time.{17}

To many this region simply means a distant line of sandy crests,tree-flecked and ragged, against the sky on the horizon—a mysteriousand unknown waste, without commercial value, and therefore useless froma utilitarian standpoint.

It is not the land, but the landscape, not the utility, but the romanticand interesting wild life among these yellow ranges that is of value. Itis the picturesque and poetic quality that we find in this land ofenchantment that appeals to us, and it is because of this love in ourlives that we now enter this strange country.

The landscapes among the dunes are not for the realist, not for the coldand discriminating recorder of facts, nor the materialist who wouldweigh with exact scales or look with scientific eyes. It is a countryfor the dreamer and the poet, who would cherish its secrets, openenchanted locks, and explore hidden vistas, which the Spirit of theDunes has kept for those who understand.

The winds have here fashioned wondrous forms with the shuttles of theair and the mutable sands. Shadowy fortresses have been reared andbannered with the pines. Illusive distant towers are tinged{18} by thesubtle hues of the afterglows, as the twilights softly blend them intothe glooms. In the fading light we may fancy the outlines of frowningcastles and weird battlements, with ghostly figures along their heights.

If the desert was of concrete, its mystery and spiritual power would notexist. The deadly silences which nature leaves among her ruins areappalling, unless brightened by her voices of enduring hope. It is thenthat our spirits revive with her.

There is an unutterable gloom in the hush of the rocky immensities,where, in dim ages past, the waters have slowly worn away the stonybarriers of the great canyons among the mountains. The countlesscenturies seem to hang over them like a pall, when no living green comesforth among the stones to nourish the soul with faith in life to come.We walk in these profound solitudes with an irresistible sense ofspiritual depression.

On Nature’s great palette green is the color of hope. We see it in theleaves when the miracle of the spring unfolds them, and on the ocea{19}n’stroubled waters when the sun comes from behind the curtains of the sky.Even the tiny mosses cover with their mantles the emblems of despairwhen decay begins its subtle work on the fallen tree and broken stump.

We find in the dune country whatever we take to it. The repose of theyellow hills, which have been sculptured by the winds and the years,reflects the solemnity of our minds, and eternal hope is sustained bythe expectant life that creeps from every fertile crevice.

While the wandering masses are fascinating, it is among the morepermanent forms, where nature has laid her restraining hand, that wefind the most picturesque material. It is here that the reconstructiveprocesses have begun which impart life to the waste places. At first,among these wastes, one is likely to have a sense of loneliness. Thelong, undulating lines of ridged sand inspire thoughts of hopelessmelancholy. The sparse vegetation, which in its struggle for lifepathetically seizes and holds the partially fertile spots among theseever-shifting masses, has the appearance of broken submission. Thewildly tangled {20}roots—derelicts of the sands—which have been desertedand left to bleach in the sun by the slow movement of the great hills,emphasize the feeling of isolation. The changing winds may again givethem a winding sheet, but as a part of nature’s refuse, they are slowlyand steadily being resolved back into her crucible.

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To the colorist the dunes present ever-changing panoramas of hue andtone. Every cloud that trails its purple, phantom-like shadow acrossthem{21} can call forth the resources of his palette, and he can findinspiration in the high nooks where the pines cling to their perilousanchorage.

The etcher may revel in their wealth of line. The harmonic undulationsof the long, serrated crests, with sharp accents of gnarled roots andstunted trees, offer infinite possibilities in composition. To theimaginative enthusiast, seeking poetic forms of line expression, thesedwarfed, neglected, crippled, and wasted things become subtle units inartistic arrangement.

As in all landscape, we find much material in these subjects that isentirely useless from an artistic standpoint. The thoughtful translatormust be rigidly selective, and his work must go to other minds, to whichhe appeals, stripped of dross and unencumbered with superfluities. Anugly and ill-arranged mass of light and shade, that may disfigure theforeground, may be eliminated from the composition, but the graceful andslender weed growing near it may be used. A low, dark cloud in thedistance may be carried a little farther away, if necessary, or it maybe blown entirely away, if another cloud—floating only in the realm ofim{22}agination—will furnish the desired note of harmony. Truth need notnecessarily be fact, but we must not include in our composition thatwhich is not possible or natural to our subject. Representation of factis not art, in its pure sense, but effective expression of thought,which fact may inspire, is art—and there is but one art, although thereare many mediums.

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One must feel the spirit and poetry of the dunes, if he deals with themas an artist who would send{23} their story into the world. The magic ofsuccessful artistic translation changes the sense of desolation into animpression of wild, weird beauty and romantic charm. It is the wildness,the mystery, the deep solemnity, and the infinite grandeur of thisregion which furnish themes of appealing picturesqueness.

Man has changed or destroyed natural scenery wherever he has come intopractical contact with it. The fact that these wonderful hills are leftto us is simply because he has not yet been able to carry away and usethe sand of which they are composed. He has dragged the pines from theirstorm-scarred tops,

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